Sunday, March 15, 2015

Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Lent
March 15, 2015
2 Chr 36: 14-16, 19-23
Eph 2: 4-10
John 3: 14-21
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple” (2 Chr 36: 14).

At the end of the 2d Book of Chronicles, the unknown author, whom we may call simply the Chronicler, sums up Israel’s recent history.  It hasn’t been pretty.  Leaders and people alike have been unfaithful to God, ignoring divine law, practicing idolatry and sexual immorality, oppressing the poor and the weak, not respecting the sabbath day rest.  It’s all catalogued in the books of Kings and Chronicles and in the prophets.

Doesn’t it sound a lot like the society and culture that we live in?

The Chronicler then tells us the consequences of Israel’s infidelities.  Those aren’t pretty either:  the utter destruction of Jerusalem, including the temple; slaughter; captivity and exile.

We can look at our world and see what happens when people ignore God’s laws.  There’s plenty of bloodshed—on foreign battlefields and in our own cities.  The crushing of the poor, leaving them with little hope, leads to criminal activity like the drug cartels, and it leaves the poor vulnerable to human trafficking.  The lack of stable family relationships draws young people to gangs.  Religious and ethnic hatred drives people out of their homes and into miserable refugee camps—or into the risk of dangerous voyages to foreign countries where they hope they might do better.

The Chronicler concludes with word that God finally sent a deliverer to Israel:  Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, who released the Jewish captives and let them go home to rebuild Jerusalem and their country.

Our 2d reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, speaks of another deliverer whom God sent to Israel:  “God, who is rich in mercy, … when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ … raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens” (2:4-6).

The gospel reading from St. John says much the same thing in that famous verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (3:16).

In the OT Israel died a political, social, and culture death on account of their transgressions.  St. Paul and St. John speak of the eternal death that we sinners deserve, and of God’s “great love for us” (Eph 2:4), the richness of his mercy, that offers us forgiveness.  Paul emphasizes that we don’t deserve forgiveness:  “by grace you have been saved”—he says that not once but twice (2:5,8).  That is, God gives us a favor, grants us undeserved mercy; “it is the gift of God” (2:8), and for no other reason than love—which is rather beyond our understanding, because most of us are more inclined to demand justice and fairness—or getting even—than to forgive and give 2d and 3d and 4th chances to those who’ve hurt us.

One of the purposes of this Lenten season is to remind ourselves that God has this abundance of mercy to offer us.  He loves us more than we can imagine.  He wants to save us and draw us to himself.  He wants us to live with him alongside Jesus “in the heavens,” in eternal life as members of his family.  We have only to accept his forgiveness, to come out of the darkness of our sins, our evil attitudes and behaviors, and let him lead us into the light, to do the works of the light and of truth (cf. John 3:19-21).

St. Paul writes that “we are [God’s] handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them” (Eph 2:10).  God the craftsman, like a master potter or metalsmith or carpenter, has shaped us—you and me—making us for some plan of his:  to do good deeds, to speak goodness, to live goodness, “that we should live in” those good works.  He gives us his grace that we might live—live in goodness, live in the truth, live in the light, and live forever with his Son Jesus.

The raising of Lazarus
(Byzantine icon)
What happens when we live in truth and goodness, when we walk in the light?  Long before we get to heaven, our lives get better!  There’s no cheating, no infidelity, no covetousness and greed, no anger and assault.  There is forgiveness, mercy, understanding, compassion.  Don’t you love seeing those qualities in Pope Francis?  What would our lives be like if you and I practiced them?  What would our society and our culture be like if you and I had more of a positive impact on them?

And that’s the other purpose of Lent:  to induce us to change ourselves—our thoughts and behaviors—for the better, “so that [our] works may be clearly seen as done in God” (John 3:21), and so that God “might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7)—because we’ve accepted the gift of his grace and let him rule our lives.

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